The night I met him, I was already pretty down on myself.
Earlier, I had performed an underwhelming acoustic set at my favorite open mic and was already a few lonely drinks deep in the basement I had been renting with five bible college students I met online. My therapist and I had recently come to the conclusion that it was my repressed homosexuality and questioning faith that made my job as a live-in youth pastor so challenging and anxiety-filled. Huh, go figure. The early months of 2015 were spent recuperating from a traumatic religious experience, reassessing what my values were, and opening up a Grindr account for the first time.
It was Tuesday nights like this that Grindr was almost made for, and it was Tuesday nights like this that could persuade me to go out for drinks with a guy with a faceless profile. He was twelve years older and the kind of guy that would hit me up daily. “Hi.” “What’s Up?” “Good morning.” Demanding a face picture got me a couple of car selfies of a gingerish, blue-eyed man who apparently had an affinity for Ray-Ban sunglasses, Subaru cars, and, apparently, me.
Soon I’d learn this would be a relentless daily ritual of his, where he’d say nothing too outrageously offensive or harassing, but wear down those who’d otherwise ignore or forget about him until they consented to drinks, or lunch, or anything that would spark a connection. Attraction almost wasn’t a factor; familiarity and friendliness overcompensated. After some convincing (and the promise of free cocktails), I met him out where a few friends sat with him, the bartender included, and it was soon enough revealed to me that this scruffy, tall, charismatic socialite’s network extended far beyond online sex apps.
We exchanged pleasantries and soon the details of my life unraveled; my new job in social media marketing after leaving the church, my recent and botched coming out, and my conservative upbringing by two well-meaning but rooted-in-faith preachers. “Wait, you’re a pastor’s kid too?” he interjects. Laying his hand on my thigh for the first time that evening,
This is going to be very interesting,” he declared.
We ended up talking for hours and bonded in the bar until chairs were being stacked. Never before had I felt such commonality with someone. I learned about the elaborate balance he struck in not-quite ever coming out, even at 33, and how he carefully compartmentalized his life and networks into seldom intersecting local circles. That included his underground life as a gay man, a trusted member of his non-affirming church, and a pillar in the local political scene. I thought about how I could do that too.
That week, I didn’t spend a single night in my bed. Intrigue became infatuation, and I was head-over-heels. We’d go about our days, go to work, but at night we’d reunite at his apartment and grow closer together in a world of our own construction; a world where we didn’t need to come out to our parents, or anyone. We’d talk about how much we loved the small but metropolitan Washington city we lived in. We’d sit on his couch and watch endless episodes of House of Cards or whatever lame Seth MacFarlane cartoon he made me watch.
But mainly, we’d talk about the boys we were talking to, and that was probably the main caveat in the relationship.
He wasn’t ready to settle down, and despite what I pleaded with him on some late nights that summer, I wasn’t either. He was still hitting boys up systemically every morning. He was still corralling them into sleeping with him routinely. There was both a physical and emotional hole that he was constantly desperate to fill with shallow but, needless to say, deeply penetrating love. My only wish was that I could fulfill that with (what I thought was, at least) genuine care, but it never did.
The conversation never amounted to anything significant, and again, we lived in the in-between.Of course, this was mid-2015; a time when whimsy and political apathy were still slightly acceptable. There were still a dozen Republican candidates for president, and in hindsight, it was incredible how naive I truly was about virtually every aspect of my life. Mere months into my life as a gay man and I’m in love with a creepy, lame sociopath.
Once the initial infatuation faded; when we eventually had spats or moments when we weren’t speaking to one another, I attempted to reignite things by attending Monday night’s city council meetings. Ihad a legitimate interest in the city’s affairs it was a small enough city where change was tangible and energizingbut my main purpose of going was to sit next to him and be his “pal.” His “buddy.” His “friend.”
My attendance at city council meetings eventually led to relationships with some of the most important people in the city. And after a stressful but sexually-awakening trip to Europe, I was reached out to by a friend who had been managing a city council campaign. His wife was about to have another child earlier than expected and couldn’t run the campaign anymore and asked me to. Desperate for a job, I obliged.
There, I learned a lot about middle America by doorbelling and talking to constituents. At the time, I scoffed at their fears of “sanctuary cities” and immigration, returning to the factual point that we lived in Eastern Washington and there was nothing to worry about.
That didn’t stop them from eventually electing Donald Trump, and not the candidate I had poured all my time into, but even then my focus was on the relationship with the same creepy, lame sociopath I so desperately tried to make work. After the campaign was over, I was contacted by people from Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush’s camp looking for skilled, social media savvy millennials to help propel them into the lead.
It wouldn’t have worked, and I wasn’t interested.
It wasn’t until the rise of Trump did I realize how poisonous my complacency was. Sitting on the fence wasn’t an option anymore. It never actually was. If I was going to be happy, and being happy is a big ‘if’ on its own, I needed to accept who I am. I needed to love myself before I could love anyone else. This fellow son of a preacher didn’t love himself, and it took me far too long to realize it.
In fact, it took a Craigslist ad. It took a local personal ad I discovered in my neighborhood for a man with strikingly similar stats and writing style as the man I loved, kindly but desperately requesting anonymous loads. Door unlocked. He was “begging to be punished.” Begging to be punished for a crime he never committed: loving men and being loved by men back. To this day, this hasn’t manifested into self-discovery and love like it has for me.
And ironically, I pray for him every day.